A new mission to search for possible life on Mars is being developed right now. Here’s what we know
Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 04 July 2022, at 06:48 am Los Angeles time
Exploring beneath the surface of other planets may be the key to finding out if there has ever been life elsewhere on Earth, CNN reports.
As other missions have shown, including that of NASA's InSight spacecraft, drilling beneath the surface of planets such as Mars has so far been too difficult to penetrate more than a few inches into the ground.
Recently, the Curiosity rover measured total organic carbon for the first time, a necessary ingredient in the molecules of life, in Martian rocks. But this does not prove that life ever existed on Mars because carbon can be produced from sources other than living organisms.
New research suggests that the best chance of finding past or present evidence of life on Mars is to drill to depths of more than 2 meters. Mars has an incredibly thin atmosphere, which means that the surface of the red planet is bombarded by high-energy radiation from space and could quickly degrade substances such as amino acids, which provide fragile evidence of life.
These harsh surface conditions are also a challenge for astronauts, which is why scientists have suggested that caves on other planets could be the key to future explorations. The vast cave systems on the Moon and Mars could be used as shelters for future space travelers.
Caves could also contain resources such as water, reveal more about a planet's history, and be a haven for evidence of microbial life. There is wide range of cave systems on Earth, many of which remain unexplored, supporting various groups of microorganisms. But caves are dangerous, and since we've never looked inside a Martian cave, it's hard to know what to expect.
Before astronauts land on Mars and explore beneath the planet's surface, scientists want to send ReachBot, a robot designed to search for information through alien caves.
The idea to build such a robot was born in 2018, when Marco Pavone, director of the Autonomous Systems Laboratory at Stanford University, and his students were brainstorming for a Martian cave explorer.
They knew that the robot should be able to hold on to anchor points so that it could move without falling, and that if it didn't find enough anchor points, it wouldn't get very far.
One of the students suggested the idea of a small robot with extendable arms that stretch like an elastic band, to be used in the same way that Spiderman puts his sails to climb the buildings in New York.
The robot concept is slightly larger than a basketball and has extendable arms equipped with thorny grips that could grab objects and push stones off the steep, rocky surfaces of Martian caves. It could anchor and crawl long distances.
When the robot arms are not needed, they bend.
Pavone and his students came up with the idea of a robot with extendable arms. They created a proposal that they sent to NASA's Advanced Concepts Program, which funds visionary concepts in the field of space robotics.
The ReachBot concept has received funding and is already in its second phase. The team will use the next two years to work on 3D simulations, and a robot prototype, to develop strategies to help ReachBot avoid risks and test it in a difficult environment - probably in a cave in New Mexico or California. These tests will determine how ReachBot could be used for future exploration of Mars.